Foot and Ankle
High Blood Pressure
On-the-Job Foot Health
Rear Foot Surgery
A Biological Masterpiece, But
Subject to Many Ills
The human foot is a
biological masterpiece. Its strong, flexible, and functional design
enables it to do its job well and without complaint ó if you take care
of it and don't take it for granted.
The foot can be compared
to a finely tuned race car, or a space shuttle, vehicles whose function
dictates their design and structure. And like them, the human foot is
complex, containing within its relatively small size 26 bones (the two
feet contain a quarter of all the bones in the body), 33 joints, and a
network of more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments, to say nothing
of blood vessels and nerves.
Tons of Pressure
The components of your feet
work together, sharing the tremendous pressures of daily living. An
average day of walking, for example, brings a force equal to several
hundred tons to bear on the feet. This helps explain why your feet are
more subject to injury than any other part of your body.
Foot ailments are among
the most common of our health problems. Although some can be traced to
heredity, many stem from the cumulative impact of a lifetime of abuse
and neglect. Studies show that 75 percent of Americans experience foot
problems of a greater or lesser degree of seriousness at some time in
their lives; nowhere near that many seek medical treatment, apparently
because they mistakenly believe that discomfort and pain are normal and
There are several
systemic diseases which are sometimes first detected in the feet, the
most serious of which is Kaposi's sarcoma, an AIDS-related illness; also
included are diabetes, circulatory disorders, anemia, and kidney
problems. Arthritis, including gout, often attacks foot joints first.
Your feet, like other
specialized structures, require specialized care. A doctor of podiatric
medicine can make an important contribution to your total health,
whether it is regular preventive care or surgery to correct a deformity.
In order to keep your
feet healthy, you should be familiar with the most common ills that
affect them. Remember, though, that self treatment can often turn a
minor problem into a major one, and is generally not advisable. You
should see a podiatric physician when any of the following conditions
occur or persist.
Athlete's foot is a
skin disease, usually starting between the toes or on the bottom of
the feet, which can spread to other parts of the body. It is caused by
a fungus which most commonly attacks the feet because the wearing of
shoes and hosiery fosters fungus growth. The signs of athlete's foot
are dry scaly skin, itching, inflammation, and blisters. You can help
prevent infection by washing your feet daily with soap and warm water;
drying carefully, especially between the toes; and changing shoes and
hose regularly to decrease moisture. Athlete's foot is not the only
infection, fungal and otherwise, which afflicts the foot, and other
dry skin/dermatitis conditions can be good reasons to see a doctor of
podiatric medicine if a suspicious condition persists.
caused by skin friction. Don't pop them. Apply moleskin or a Bandaid
over a blister, and leave it on until it falls off naturally in the
bath or shower. Keep your feet dry and always wear socks as a cushion
between your feet and shoes. If a blister breaks on its own, wash the
area, apply an antiseptic, and cover with a sterile bandage.
misaligned big toe joints which can become swollen and tender. The
deformity causes the first joint of the big toe to slant outward, and
the second joint to angle toward the other toes. Bunions tend to run
in families, but the tendency can be aggravated by shoes that are too
narrow in the forefoot and toe. There are conservative and
preventative steps which can minimize the discomfort of a bunion, but
surgery is frequently recommended to correct the problem.
Corns and calluses are
protective layers of compacted, dead skin cells. They are caused by
repeated friction and pressure from skin rubbing against bony areas or
against an irregularity in a shoe. Corns ordinarily form on the toes
and calluses on the soles of the feet. The friction and pressure can
burn or otherwise be painful and may be relieved by moleskin on the
affected areas. Never cut corns or calluses with any instrument, and
never apply home remedies, except under a podiatrist's instructions.
Foot odor results
from excessive perspiration from the more than 250,000 sweat glands in
the foot. Daily hygiene is essential. Change your shoes daily to let
each pair air out, and change your socks, perhaps even more frequently
than daily. Foot powders and antiperspirants, and soaking in vinegar
and water, can help lessen odor.
Hammertoe is a
condition in which the toe is bent in a claw-like position. It occurs
most frequently with the second toe, often when a bunion slants the
big toe toward and under it, but any of the other three smaller toes
can be affected. Although the condition usually stems from muscle
imbalance, it is often aggravated by ill-fitting shoes or socks that
cramp the toes.
Heel pain can
generally be traced to faulty biomechanics which place too much stress
on the heel bone or nerves in the area. Stress could result while
walking or jumping on hard surfaces, or from poorly made footwear.
Some general health conditions ó arthritis, gout, and circulatory
problems, for example ó also cause heel pain.
Heel spurs are
growths of bone on the underside, forepart of the heel bone. They can
occur without pain; pain may result when inflammation develops at the
point where the spur forms. Both heel pain and heel spurs are often
associated with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the long band of
connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot.
Ingrown nails are
nails whose corners or sides dig painfully into the skin. They are
frequently caused by improper nail trimming, but also by shoe
pressure, injury, fungus infection, heredity, and poor foot structure.
Toenails should be trimmed straight across, slightly longer than the
end of the toe, with toenail clippers.
enlarged, benign growths of nerves, most commonly between the third
and fourth toes. They are caused by bones and other tissue rubbing
against and irritating the nerves, whose anatomy at that location is
unusual. Abnormal bone structure or pressure from ill-fitting shoes
also can create the condition, which can result in pain, burning,
tingling, or numbness between the toes and in the ball of the foot.
Conservative treatment can include orthotic devices and/or cortisone
injections, but surgical removal of the growth is sometimes necessary.
Warts are caused
by a virus, which enters the skin through small cuts and infects the
skin. Children, especially teenagers, tend to be more susceptible to
warts than adults. Most warts are harmless and benign, even though
painful and unsightly. Warts often come from walking barefooted on
dirty surfaces or littered ground. There are several simple surgical
procedures which your podiatric physician might use to remove warts.